On occasions, I have been told by various managers who are having difficulties with a particular team that they have encountered ‘an attitude problem' with some of their team members, and that they are at a loss as to know how to deal with it. Sometimes I wonder if this is really the case.
Are such individuals really difficult? And, if so, did they come to the company with this behavioural issue or did it manifest itself over a period of time? Either way, the situation needs to be managed. And this is where the difficulty can lie. Managers often do not know what to say or do to someone who, in their opinion, is ‘being difficult'.
So the chances are that the behaviour is ignored until it gets to the point where the individual staff member needs to be disciplined and/or ultimately asked to leave the business.
So could this situation, which ultimately costs an organisation a good deal in terms of training costs and costly staff changes, be avoided? Well, in many cases it can be, if dealt with in a timely way and with an appropriate and prompt intervention.
Let us start out from the premise that people are not normally born having a ‘difficult' personality that manifests in an attitude problem in later life, but there can conceivably be a combination of factors that can create a situation which can range from quiet disobedience to outright insubordination in the workplace.
As a manager, how should you respond? Rather than becoming involved in a debate about the employee's attitude, it may be more beneficial to address the situation as a behavioural problem. In this way, a resolution is easier if dismissal is the only way forward but the alternative is a structured intervention, as follows:
Step 1: Document the negative behaviour and the specific verbal and non-verbal behaviours and actions that cause concern to you and/or the team.
Step 2: Identify the effects of such behaviour which may be damaging team morale; having a negative effect on productivity or damaging the reputation of the company by harmful comments. Other consequences could be carelessness or lack of concentration leading to increased accidents, a tense atmosphere in the office or in a workshop leading to poor co-operation and co-ordination amongst team members, insensitivity and rudeness resulting in disruption of schedules and targets, etc.
The date and time of each incident needs to be recorded together with the perceived effects on both productivity and team relationships. Then list the business reasons why the behaviour has to stop.
Step 3: Arrange a mutually convenient time to meet with the employee concerned and ensure there will be no interruptions and that the individual knows that the conversation is confidential. Be straightforward. Find out if there is a reason for the negative behaviour as it is possible it could be in reaction to someone else's conduct in the office, or possibly that they are responding to bullying or intimidation. You need to ascertain if there is some perceived complaint against either the company itself or some other member of staff.
Be direct in describing the unacceptable behaviour, the problems that it is causing and the necessity for it to stop. Confirm that a change in behaviour will benefit not only the individual but their colleagues and the department as a whole.
There can be nothing more important than defusing a situation where an employee has a negative and disruptive attitude. People don't necessarily wish to have an attitude problem but it can grow over a period of time and then become part of their natural behaviour patterns.
If you have implemented this process, without measurable success, then it could be that the service of a professional coach might be needed. The alternative is to look for a replacement, but that should be a last resort.
Intervention: Clear-cut approach
- Negative behaviour is disruptive to the organisation.
- A poor attitude needs to be addressed by a structured intervention.
- Ignoring unacceptable behaviour should never be an option.
- The author is a BBC guest-broadcaster and Motivational Speaker. She is CEO of an international stress management and employee wellbeing consultancy based in London. Contact them for proven stress strategies - www.carolespiersgroup.co.uk